Illinois Public Media News
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief fundraiser pleaded guilty Tuesday to swindling two major airlines as part of an $8.5 million fraud arising from hangar roofing contracts at O'Hare International Airport.
Under his signed plea, 51-year-old Christopher G. Kelly will be sentenced to 57 months in prison. As chief of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich, Kelly bankrolled the now impeached Democrat's rise to the governor's office.
The sentence comes on top of a 37-month federal prison term Kelly must serve after pleading guilty to charges in an unrelated tax-fraud scheme.
Kelly still faces charges as a co-defendant in the same federal indictment that alleges Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Obama's former seat in the U.S. Senate.
In central Illinois, many employers large and small have downsized or closed altogether, forcing thousands of laid-off workers to consider new options. In our latest report as part of our outreach project "WILL Connect: The Economy", AM 580's Jeff Bossert looks at the retraining of workers. Ingenuity and government-funded training are giving many of them a jump on a new career, or a better shot at an old one:
The Montgomery family of Philo spent Wednesday night in their new home --- courtesy of the TV show "Extreme Makeover Home Edition", and a host of local volunteers and businesses.
Local businesspeople bringing housewarming gifts applauded Wednesday, as Ed Brady of Brady Homes handed over the keys to Nathan and Jenny Montgomery's new home in Philo, with the words, "These are yours.". In just one week, construction crews and volunteers tore down the Montgomery's crumbling old house and built a brand new one. Nathan Montgomery says her youngest daughter summed up their feelings of excitement and disbelief as they saw the house for the first time on Tuesday.
"I think Lily was saying as we walked up the steps, she just kept repeating, 'this is real, this is real'", says Montgomery. "And I am catching myself reminding myself of that --- and I'm sure we will for awhile --- this is really our house."
Nathan and Jenny Montgomery says they can't say thank-you enough for the house, as well as the outpouring of community support for both them and Salt and Light Ministry, the faith-based charity that Nathan Montgomery founded. And the attention has also been good for Philo, a village of about 1300 people in southeast Champaign County. Mayor Craig Eckert says the Extreme Makeover producers told him Philo should expect more visitors as news about the Montgomery's new house gets around.
Eckert says the visitors are welcome. "Certainly as mayor, we love when people spend some of their money here in the community," says Mayor Eckert. "But it's going to highlight our town, and we're real proud of our community. And the Montgomery's just add to an already really wonderful place
The Montgomery family spent most of Wednesday filming segments inside their new house for the Extreme Makeover show about them that airs October 25th on ABC.
Organizations that help the poor in east-central Illinois are giving out more and more assistance. But there may be many people who for some reason or another have not made that call for help. In the latest of our series of stories in connection with the outreach project "WILL Connect: The Economy," AM 580's Tom Rogers introduces us to people who decided to make the leap and reach out for aid, and people who encourage others to do so.
With the economy shaky and unemployment up, more people are turning to food pantries for help in getting enough to eat. In east-central Illinois, food pantries -- and the regional food bank that supplies them -- say more people are coming to them for help, some of them for the first time. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy says he's "deeply saddened'' by the death of former band member Jay Bennett.
The 45-year-old Bennett was found dead early Sunday in his Urbana home. Tweedy said in a statement Monday that Bennett made "significant contributions'' to Wilco's songs and the band's evolution. Tweedy said Bennett would be remembered "as a truly unique and gifted human being.''
Bennett worked as a sound engineer and played instruments for Wilco from 1994 to 2001.
An autopsy was planned for Tuesday by the Champaign County Coroner.
Earlier this month, Bennett sued Tweedy, claiming he was owed royalties for songs during his seven years and five albums with the group.
An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.
The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.
This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.
"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."
Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.
Film Critic Roger Ebert's name will have a prominent place in the University of Illinois College of Media.
The Sun-Times columnist has announced a one million dollar grant to establish the Roger Ebert Program for Film Studies.
The dean of the U of I's College of Media says it'll be the foundation for a media and cinema studies department on the Urbana campus. Ron Yates says the department will give students a chance to learn skills in an evolving industry, like screenwriting and film criticism.
It could help pay for several things: workshops, symposia, seminars, research efforts that might be done in films," Yates said. "It will enhance the program as it begins to take off."
Yates hopes total donations for the program will reach five million dollars.
Ebert announced the grant during the first night of his Ebertfest film festival in Champaign - Yates says Ebertfest offices would be housed under the new College of Media program.
The campus senate at the University of Illinois at Springfield is calling for an outside investigation of the school's athletic program, after incidents which led to the resignation of three coaches last month. But the campus senate is holding off on a vote expressing no confidence in the university's chancellor.
The university is already conducting an internal investigation into the controversy, which prompted the school to call the women's softball team back from a trip to Florida, but officials have declined to discuss details.
Today, the campus senate, which includes faculty, staff and students, passed a resolution to conduct a separate independent investigation. They were also scheduled to consider a vote expressing no confidence in Chancellor Richard Ringeisen.
Before the vote, the senate removed all mention of Athletic Director Rodger Jehlicka from the discussions and is delaying a no confidence vote for Ringeisen until the external investigation is completed. Ringeisen says the school must address concerns about the controversy, but he says he can't elaborate on what happened.
"If you think that a chancellor enjoys not being able to share details with people so that the accusations will stop, you're wrong," Ringeisen said
Ringeisen says if he did reveal details of the incident, he would be risking a lawsuit. The campus senate hopes to have the results of the independent investigation by the fall.
Terrell Starr's summer in the republic of Georgia has ended earlier than he had expected. Fighting between Georgia and Russia has prompted the University of Illinois graduate student - and former AM 580 news intern - to leave Georgia for neighboring Armenia, along with hundreds of other Americans who evacuated on Monday. Starr talked with AM 580's Tom Rogers about his experiences over the past week.
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